ATV camping in the back country is a great adventure but it does come with some risks. One of the biggest risks is that of a wildfire. You can manage the risk of wildfires with some pre-trip planning and some helpful tips on what to do if you are caught in a back country wildfire.
When planning an ATV camping trip always check with the appropriate authorities about any fire danger and possible fire bans in the area. If there are fire bans make sure you understand how extreme the bans are. Some fire bans prohibit campfires but will allow a controlled flame such as a camping stove. More extreme fire bans prohibit any type of open flame.
Before heading out on your ATV camping trip always check for any existing wildfires in the area. There are two very good sources of this information, InciWeb is a website that maintains a list of current wildfires across the nation and the Fire Weather Page, part of the National Weather Service website, constantly updates current fire hazards across the nation.
Carry a list of contact information for the local authorities, forest service or Bureau of Land Management (BLM) office. But even with proper planning a back country wildfire can still start from a lighting strike or a careless camper.
If you smell or see smoke, or a red and orange glow on the horizon at night, a fire is nearby and you need to prepare to leave the area. If you have a cell phone and a signal call 911 to report the fire. Load your ATVs and head in the opposite direction of the smoke preferably into the wind.
Seek high ground so you can access the wildfire danger, its direction and determine possible exit routes. Again if you have a cell phone and a signal try to contact the local authorities for more information.
If you can hear cracking, see sparks in the air or can see the fire is very close and trying to out run the fire at this point is not recommended. The biggest danger of an approaching wildfire is not the flames but the superheated air which can sear your lungs. Cover your mouth and nose with a wet bandana, cloth or shirt (non-synthetic if possible) to help cool the air you breath.
Grab your survival kit (never venture into the back country without one) and get as far away as possible from your ATV because most ATVs have plastic fuel tanks that will melt and explode when exposed too high heat. The following is a list of what to do if you are caught in a back country wildfire:
- The safest area would be in a sparse fuel area where there is less to burn.
- If you are in the mountains, the back side from the fire and wind is the safest.
- Canyons are considered by the firefighters as a natural “chimney” and saddles. Canyons are the last place you want to be caught out in the open during a wild fire.
- If there is a road is near, it’s best to lie face down along the road.
- If there is a ditch you could lie on the uphill side.
- If there is a large body of water like a pond or lake swim out to the middle.
- Look for anything that can help shield you from the fire’s heat.
- Find any kind of depression with as little fuel to burn as possible.
- Remove fuel away from the spot if there is time while the fire approaches.
- Lie face down in the depression and cover yourself even if you only have sand or dirt.
- Avoid wearing synthetic clothing if possible.
- Remain down on the ground until the fire has passed.
Typically a wildfire will pass in about 1 – 5 minutes. Once the fire has passed be careful because debris on the ground can still be white hot and burned trees and branches can easily fall. Try to find the road or trail you came into the area on. If the trail or road can not be found seek high ground and wait for rescue. Review the Lost in the Back Country post for information and tips on getting found in the back country.
Review the ATV Camping Survival post as well. If you contacted the authorities earlier by cell phone about the fire try contacting them again and wait for their arrival.